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My Lords, the Leader of the House was commendably frank in her speech in saying that the Government have no stomach for fundamental reform of this place. That is a pity. Like the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I hope that one day we will have a Government who will grapple with the need to cement our devolution settlements in this country and create a new upper Chamber, which could be a federal Chamber for the devolved Administrations. Bearing in mind the commission report of Mr Asquith’s Government and the committee report of Mr Attlee’s Government, the House of Commons does not wish to see another directly elected Chamber in the land. Nevertheless, a Chamber that is indirectly elected by the House of Commons and the other devolved institutions is surely long overdue. I would welcome that.
In the meantime, I warmly welcome the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. It is of course predicated entirely on the 2014 Act, whose provisions I introduced three times in this House over three Sessions on behalf of the Cormack-Norton committee, as noble Lords will remember. Thanks to Dan Byles MP in the House of Commons, that Act eventually became law and enabled Peers to leave this House, either voluntarily or through the House removing them. The minute the law was changed, I took the view that changes could be made thereafter by resolution of the House, which is why I welcome the general thrust of the Burns report. I congratulate the noble Lord and his committee on its excellence.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Newby is wrong when he postulates the possibility of the Prime Minister introducing a swathe of new Members in the new year; if that happened, I am afraid that it would drive a coach and horses through the committee’s recommendations. I very much hope that it will not happen. I have only one criticism to make of the report, which is that it will take too long to get the numbers down to 600. Need it take 11 years? I do not believe so. I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, about older Members retiring. I see no reason why we could not have an automatic clear-out of Members aged over 80 at the end of every Parliament. I see no difficulty in that. The House of Commons has a clear-out at a general election—why should this House not do the same? The age of 80 seems reasonable to me.
There are two objections to that proposal. One is that it is ageist. Is it ageist? In other public services, people retire at 60 or 70; the oldest age I could find was 75 for lord-lieutenants and deputy lord-lieutenants. An age of 80 and above, which is what my proposal suggests, seems generous and reasonable. The other objection to what I propose is the ad hominem objection. There is nothing to stop retired Members from going on the airwaves, giving lectures or writing to the newspapers. All they would do is stop being legislators, which seems utterly reasonable. The argument might be, “Oh, you can’t do that because you would lose Nigel Lawson”, to which I say, “Well, so what?”. You would also, as of next time round, lose David Steel—and that might be a very good thing.